Weird History
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13 Facts That Prove Marie Antoinette Remains An Extremely Controversial Figure

Updated July 2, 2020 367.4k views13 items
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Marie Antoinette, the ill-fated queen of France, is remembered for two things: losing her head and uttering the callous phrase, “Let them eat cake.” Though it is indeed true she was the last queen in the history of France, there was a lot more to this tragic queen. Surprising facts about Marie Antoinette actually reveal her to be a woman of character, intelligence, and strength.

Born in Austria in 1755, Marie Antoinette began life far from the mirrored halls of Versailles. Becoming queen of France would afford her extravagances and great wealth; but it would also bring her boredom, loneliness, and terror. Though it’s true she loved fashion, cards, and sweets, she also had a hard time adjusting to life at the French court and was often accused of being an outsider. She wasn’t just a queen: she was also a daughter, a mother, and a sister. Behind the legend of the doomed queen of France and the trappings of the French monarchy, Marie Antoinette was a real woman who lived, loved, and died in one of the most chaotic moments in modern history.

Even before and since her execution during the French Revolution, people around the world have imagined her in specific ways - especially in recent films. Some representations were cruel, while others were highly romanticized. The real Marie Antoinette existed somewhere between those extremes.

  • Photo: Pierre Dreuillon / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Love Of Her Life Was A Dashing Swedish Officer

    Though her relationship with her husband worked for both of them, it did not give her romantic fulfillment. For that she turned to a dashing, young Swedish officer. Hans Axel von Fersen first met Marie Antoinette at a masquerade at Versailles in 1774, when they were both 19 years old and von Fersen was in the midst of a Grand Tour across Europe. But their relationship did not begin in earnest until a few years later, when the Swedish nobleman returned to France. Their close friendship ignited rumors, and von Fersen escaped to America to fight with French forces to spare the queen a scandal

    By the time von Fersen returned to Versailles in 1783, their attraction had only grown. Though historians remain divided on the nature of their relationship - was it platonic love or a sexual affair? - it is widely accepted that Marie Antoinette and von Fersen had strong affection for one another that may have been romantic love.

    Whether or not Marie Antoinette and von Fersen engaged in a passionate affair, he remained loyal to her until the end. He helped Marie Antoinette’s family in their unsuccessful attempt to escape France in 1791 and even mortgaged his estates to pay for the carriages that were meant to take the royal family to safety.

    Though von Fersen survived the revolution, he returned to Sweden and never married. Like Marie Antoinette, he had a violent end: a Swedish mob murdered him in 1810.

  • Photo: Isaac Cruikshank / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The 18th-Century Version Of Tabloids Always Attacked Her

    Courtiers and non-courtiers alike loved to criticize Marie Antoinette. As an Austrian-born queen, she was an obvious candidate for critiques, as French men and women considered her to be a foreigner. Her extravagant spending on fashion and real estate certainly did not help matters, and Marie Antoinette was routinely depicted in caricatures and pamphlets as greedy, corrupt, and unnatural in her tastes - she was accused of adultery, lesbianism with her close friends, and every other manner of behavior that would have shocked 18th Century society. She was even personally blamed for the country’s poor state of finances.

  • Photo: Martin van Meytens / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    She Was Born In Austria To One Of The Most Powerful Women In Europe

    Though she died a queen of France, Marie Antoinette was actually born an archduchess in Austria on November 2, 1755. Her mother was Empress Maria Theresa, hereditary head of the Holy Roman Empire. Maria Theresa was a legend and one of the most powerful women in Europe - she was the formidable leader who defended her inheritance against those who doubted the fitness of a woman to rule the Habsburg Empire.

    Marie Antoinette spent the majority of her life away from the Austrian court, but she maintained a correspondence with her mother, exchanging letters with her about every two weeks. Like her mother, Marie Antoinette would be put in a place where the legitimacy of her position would be questioned. And like her mother, she would demonstrate strength of character and will in a moment when it mattered most.

  • Photo: Joseph Kreutzinger / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    She Was A Bit Of A Tomboy

    Marie Antoinette had a fortunate childhood in royal terms: she grew up virtually free many of the restraints from court life and was known to be a rambunctious, active child. In fact, she was something of a tomboy and was energetic and intelligent. Marie Antoinette preferred activity and socialization to solitary study, a trait she brought to France with her. After she came to the French court, she made it clear to the current King Louis XV - and new grandfather-in-law - she wanted to join him on his famous hunts. She began a passion for hunting and horseback-riding, and even shocked the court by riding a horse astride while wearing breeches